Thursday, May 22, 2008

Sugar and Spice

Much of my parental energy lately has been focused on Jack, on the joys and challenges of his turning five -- five! I know, when did that happen? -- and on my mother-version of separation anxiety. I keep meaning to write a post about it, but that will have to wait until I can crystallize my thoughts and separate them from my emotions a bit.

So today I'm just going to post a couple pictures of little Sophie. Although her own determination is becoming apparent, she's at an age that is so much less complicated, so much easier on me!
See what I mean?

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Home Remedy Revelation, Or The Apple Cider Vinegar Trick

If my great-grandmother was still alive, I might have gotten rid of this pesky cough a lot sooner than this weekend. Yes, I'm talking about the cough that has plagued me -- and the family and friends who've had to hear me hacking away -- for the past two months at least. Just before Matt left on Friday, he said if I was still coughing when he got back, he would take me to the doctor himself.

Although I thought the cough was on its way out, the sore throat seemed to be getting worse, so last night I got on-line and Googled my symptoms: sore throat on one side, difficulty swallowing. I was looking for a home remedy and knew there had to be something I could do besides eating orange ice lollies (or popsicles, if you live in America), which was the only thing that seemed to ease the pain, and that only temporarily.

The first site that I clicked
had posted endless testimonials about the wonders of apple cider vinegar. Since I had a bottle on the counter, next to the olive oil beside the stove, I tried one of the recommended recipes: 2 Tbs. honey, 2 Tbs. apple cider vinegar, 1/2 glass water, 1/2 glass orange juice.

It burned going down, but in a good way. I went to bed with high hopes. Woke up this morning and my throat was still sore. Still very inflamed, as in it hurt to swallow my vitamins. Made another dose of the concoction. Again it burned a bit, but not so much that I was worried or thought I'd made a horrible mistake.

The pain in my throat had been setting in by 4:00 each day, increasing until bedtime and not subsiding until about 9:00 the next morning, but around 5:30 this afternoon, I realized that it hadn't come back. My sore throat was gone! I drank another dose tonight just to be sure, but really -- I can now swallow, easily and without pain, for the first time in a long time. And the cough is gone, too! Who knew the healing properties of apple cider vinegar? In my generation, I mean.

Ahhh. Now I'm going to bed for my favorite home remedy of all: a good night's sleep.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Mother's Day Afternoon

Better late than never, right?

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Mother's Day Morning

I've been getting up early again, trying to avoid the creaky places in the stairs and sneak down to the kitchen without waking anyone else. The days are so lovely now, sunny and warm, and I hate to miss a minute of this gorgeous weather. With a cup of tea in hand, I wander around our tiny back garden to examine yesterday's growth, admire emerging life and soak in the serenity of birdsong floating above the sea of brick houses that is our neighborhood. I really thrive on having a bit of quiet -- time and space all to myself -- in the mornings. The rest of my day goes immensely better when it starts off with early solitude.

Jack got a watch for his birthday. He knows what 6:30 looks like, and he knows to stay in his room until that time, when Thomas the Tank Engine comes on Nick Jr. This morning he was downstairs by 6:10.

"Can I snuggle with you, Mommy?"

I said I would snuggle with him at 6:30 and sent him back to his room. After touring the garden, just as I was going to make another cup of tea and sit down at the patio table with The Daily Light, Jack came back down. I really thought he would follow his usual morning routine of heading to the couch, turning on the tv and calling for a cup of milk, but he came right outside and climbed into my lap. In addition to being funny, smart and extremely headstrong, Jack is truly the sweetest, lovingest boy. We snuggled together for a few minutes, talking about how big he is now (five!) and how much the garden is growing. I said I was going inside to make a cup of tea.

"Bring a cup of tea for me, too, Mommy..." I heard him say as I walked inside.

And then, just as I said okay, he added, "...please."

A mixture of pride and relief flooded me in that moment. Maybe all my repetitive prompting is actually taking effect? In recent American Express ads, Tina Fey says her proudest accomplishment is that her daughter says "please" and "thank you". I can totally relate.

* * * * * * *
Yesterday afternoon Matt and Jack went to Sainsbury's while I was getting supper ready. I heard the car pull into the driveway, and then the doorbell rang. When I opened the door, Jack held out an armful of gorgeous yellow roses.

"Happy Valentine's Day, Mommy," he said. "These flowers are from Kenya."

Matt said Jack picked them out all by himself. He looked and looked at everything on display before settling on these. Then Matt saw the label on the plastic sleeve: Fairtrade. Grown in Kenya.

My heart melted, and tears leaked out of my eyes. Nevermind about the confusion in holidays. Lots of love, expressed in cards and flowers -- I'll take it by any name.

The Brits celebrate Mother's Day in March. I think the timing is on purpose, to give women a much-needed emotional boost before spring has fully sprung, but it means Mother's Day cards aren't available here in May. That's okay, too, actually, because then I get original, handwritten messages. Matt coached Jack to correctly spell the words in his cute-on-the-outside, blank-inside-for-your-own-message card, but this morning Jack wrote another, spontaneous version on a card he made himself: I lve yoo ssssssssssssssss much love Jack to mom

I used to stay up late grading essays, circling in red my students' mistakes in spelling and punctuation, pointing out errors in their literary analysis. But my perspective and priorities have changed in this season of life. This boy, this amazing and marvelous creature who initiated me into motherhood, gets an A+ from me.

* * * * *
Sophie gave me a gift this morning, too. Well, two actually. First of all, she slept until 8:00! After an hour on my own and 90 glorious minutes with just Jack, I was beginning to wonder where she was when I turned to see her little tousled self peeking at me out the patio door. (I may need to get up early to start my day off right, but Sophie is sweeter after an extra bit of morning sleep.)

Her second gift to me was that I got to sit in church for the morning's sermon. Finally! After four months of panic-stricken clinginess as soon as we'd walk through the door of the Tweenies Sunday School classroom, last week she suddenly stopped crying and sat down in her chair for songs and a story, nice as you please. Another little girl was crying that morning, and maybe Sophie decided she didn't have to play that role anymore? I don't know. Anyway, this morning she was good as gold. I think we've turned a corner, Oh Happy Day!

* * * * * * *
Among Matt's contributions to Mother's Day this year, in addition to orchestrating the giving of flowers and cards, was tidying up the house while I was at the gym yesterday afternoon and washing the dishes after supper last night. And not saying anything this morning after waiting 15 minutes for me to get into the car for church.

At one point before breakfast, Jack came into the kitchen waving a sheet of stickers. "Which one of these sea creatures would you like, Mommy, for taking such good care of me and Sophie?" he asked.

My immediate reply: The octopus, because I could do with six more arms.

Actually, though, I can't complain. I've got it pretty easy. I'm blessed to have a husband who is actively involved in our family, who has great insight into how to motivate Jack when he's going through a particularly stubborn streak, who is tender and attentive with Sophie, who keeps us all laughing and who often helps me with the more mundane tasks of housekeeping. The list is long, but I'll stop there. Let's just say that, in so many ways, it's Matt who helps me keep my focus in this journey of motherhood.

He's also been encouraging Jack to pray at mealtimes. The four of us hold hands and bow our heads to give thanks, and many times Matt has asked Jack if he would like to do the praying. For months now, Jack has declined. Until this morning at breakfast.

Matt: Jack, would you like to pray and thank God for Mommy?

Jack: Yes... (then, leaning over and whispering to Matt) But I don't know what to say.

So Matt whispered to him and Jack repeated his words with clarity and confidence, and there I was in tears again, caught up in the beauty of listening to Jack's first public prayer, in the wonder of being the mother in this little family, in the joyful capsule of this morning. To everyone else in the UK, it's just another Sunday, but I'm surrounded by a wealth of reasons to celebrate. I want to remember this morning forever.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

The Poverty and Justice Bible

Since I was finally well enough to be back at church last Sunday, between greeting folks like a long-lost friend and trying to keep an eye on Jack and Sophie as they zig-zagged around people's legs in the crowded foyer, I happened to glance down at a table of literature.

The cover story of magazine called Word in Action, put out by the Bible Society here in England, caught my eye. Together with World Vision, they've just published The Poverty and Justice Bible which highlights verses about God's passionate concern for the poor and oppressed. Included in the Bible is a 32-page study guide encouraging not just an "Aha!" realization but action.

According to The Poverty and Justice Bible website:
It was US pastor and writer Rick Warren who laid the foundations for The Poverty and Justice Bible. He'd discovered that there were 2,000 verses on poverty -- and couldn't believe he'd never noticed before.

U2 frontman Bono, in his talk to the National Prayer Breakfast in Washington DC in November 2006, pointed out that the only time Christ is judgmental is on the subject of the poor. He also referred to the 2,000+ mentions of poverty in the Bible, saying, "That's a lot of airtime!"

It took a team of Bible Society researchers poring over the Contemporary English Version to identify every verse that's specific about God's take on social injustice. These range from Old Testament prophecies to Jesus' radical teachings. Just about every page has some emphasis on justice and fairness.

It's on the global agenda for politicians, activists and opinion formers. But fighting poverty and tackling injustice is no new concept for the 21st century. This Bible is proof that, on issues of social justice, God has plenty to say.

When it comes to poverty and justice, God got there first.

I'm not sure if this Bible is available yet outside the UK, but since many of us believers are becoming more aware, concerned and outspoken about justice issues worldwide, I wanted to pass the Word.

* * *
Updated to add: I just found this order form on, a ministry of the American Bible Society.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

How Can I Complain About the Weather When I'm Surrounded By Sunshine All Day Long?

Exploring the Flavors (Flavours?) of Britain

Grateful as I am to be American, I really do enjoy living outside America. My favorite books are about women from other cultures. Developing international friendships is among my Top 10 definitions of Pure Joy. I love listening to the cadence of foreign languages spoken in conversation and the sounds of music from various regions of the world. Even my political perspective has been shaped by my experiences of living for an extended time as a minority in countries other than my own.

And, of course, there’s the food. Mmm-mmm-mmm. Spicy or sweet flavors, cooked by complex or simple methods, eaten with my hands, a spoon or chopsticks -- I adore ethnic food. Each time I’ve moved to a new place, I’ve thoroughly enjoyed exploring the supermarket and learning how to make local recipes using local ingredients. It’s fun to make now-familiar recipes, given by friends in previous places, using now-local substitutes.

Decades before we moved to England, possibly in fact my whole life, I've been wholeheartedly devoted to the glories of tea. Thanks to the Scottish ladies in our church growing up, I’ve been a longtime fan of shortbread biscuits (cookies) and scones. And having been influenced by a college roommate who spent a summer in London, for the past 20 years I’ve been eating Continental style, with fork in my left hand and knife in my right.

Since coming here nearly two years ago, I’ve discovered that eating beans with a breakfast including eggs, bacon and toast is, as Jack would say, really yum. Not to be confused with the frozen pot pies of my childhood, savory pies -- beef, chicken or fish -- have become my favorite pub lunch, especially on a cold, drizzly day. And Matt and I have both fallen in love with roast potatoes -- served alongside roast beef, chicken or lamb -- when we’ve been invited round to friends’ houses for Sunday lunch.

All of these food faves are within the realm of the expected, but my newest British taste sensation is one I never thought I’d acquire: Weetabix! There’s no way I could make it sound remotely delectable because it’s just a flaky version of shredded wheat, simply wheat in cereal form. No sugar, no cinnamon -- absolutely nothing to jazz it up.

I’m not sure I want to know what this means. Am I getting more entrenched in the culture here than I realized? Have I learned to appreciate even the bland side of flavor? Have my weather-related moods gotten the better of me? Or am I just getting old?

Not that it’s all that worth writing or reading about, but since much of my day involves planning, buying, preparing and serving food for our little family, it was on my mind.